Report Card: Packers-Chargers

A typically superb outing from Aaron Rodgers offset an otherwise mediocre performance from the Packers on Sunday at San Diego. Rodgers and James Starks lifted the team to its best rushing performance of the season.

PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus — Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers keeps delivering in his astounding season, not at all affected by having a week off from the bye. His 247 yards was a season low, but he was incredibly efficient in completing 21-of-26 passes (season-best 80.8 percent) for four touchdowns and a fifth interception-free game to compute another sterling passer rating of 145.8 — just shy of the 146.5 he produced in the win at the Minnesota Vikings before the bye. The career-high-tying TD throws notwithstanding, Rodgers' finest moment Sunday came on a 64-yard completion to Jordy Nelson early in the fourth quarter. On a play-action play that has frequently produced big dividends this season, Rodgers rolled to his right, unloaded while on the move and hit Nelson with the downfield laser inside the Chargers' 25-yard line, and Nelson (five receptions, 105 yards, touchdown) worked his way to the 4. That set up a bread-and-butter back-shoulder touchdown toss to Greg Jennings (team-high six catches, 46 yards) to give the Packers what seemingly was a commanding 45-24 lead. Tight end Jermichael Finley (five catches, 44 yards, touchdown) had a more active presence in the offense, for a change, and James Jones' only reception went for a 21-yard TD. Rodgers missed Finley on a fourth-and-2 play at the San Diego 36 in the second quarter, trying to thread an underneath throw over the middle into tight quarters with cornerback Quentin Jammer snug in coverage. Rodgers absorbed four sacks, equaling a season high, and arguably all but one of those (right guard Josh Sitton failed to hold a block) were on Rodgers for holding the football too long in the pocket.

James Starks
Jake Roth/US Presswire
RUSHING OFFENSE: B — Rodgers also carried the offense on the ground to a certain extent. The Packers accumulated a season-high 136 rushing yards, and Rodgers improvised and scrambled away from danger seven times for 53 yards — he lost a yard on the final stats sheet because of a victorious kneel-down to end the game. His 25-yard scamper up the vacated left side amid tight downfield coverage on a third-and-9 pass play ignited a critical 12-play, 74-yard, 5 1/2-minute drive that culminated with Rodgers' 16-yard touchdown pass to Nelson in the waning seconds of the first half to give the Packers a 28-17 lead. Fullback John Kuhn converted a third-and-1 play in the series with a 2-yard gain on an inside handoff up the gut. Rodgers also had an 11-yard run on third-and-4 earlier in the game. Green Bay's other big run came from James Starks, who had a powerful 20-yard run on a draw up the middle with Kuhn as the lead blocker. Starks has gradually become the team's featured back the last several weeks, never mind veteran Ryan Grant remains the starter. Starks had more than three times as many snaps (36) as Grant did (11) at halfback and led the team with 13 carries for 66 yards (average of 5.1 per carry). Grant had only four carries for 16 yards. Starks, though, couldn't replicate his late-game success of moving the chains from the previous outing at Minnesota as he was stuffed for no gain between the tackles on third-and-2 at the Packers' 25, giving the Chargers one final shot with about a minute to go to try to get a score-tying touchdown.

PASS DEFENSE: C — The Packers get not one, but two interception returns for touchdowns in back-to-back possessions in the first quarter, as well as a victory-clinching pick deep in their territory in the closing seconds, but the huge trifecta couldn't mask another otherwise dismal performance by the defense against the pass. Take away Philip Rivers' career-worst three interceptions, and his 385 yards and four touchdowns likely add up to a runaway victory for the Chargers against unbeaten Green Bay. Once-embattled safety Charlie Peprah, the fill-in starter for injured standout Nick Collins, emerged as a hero with his first two-interception game as a pro, but Peprah merely happened to be in the right place at the right time to snag the football both times. On the first, a high pass from Rivers over the middle to tight end Antonio Gates glanced off covering linebacker Desmond Bishop and into the hands of Peprah behind the play. Peprah ran the ball back 40 yards, dodging four would-be tacklers, for the touchdown. Peprah's second pick came on a badly underthrown deep ball from Rivers intended for Vincent Jackson, who was double covered inside the Packers' 20 with 30 seconds left, and Peprah ran it all the way back to the San Diego 6. Pro Bowl cornerback Tramon Williams, without a takeaway after the first seven games, made an eye-opening play five snaps after the Peprah "pick six" by coming off his coverage on Jackson along the sideline and jumping a short outside throw from Rivers to Patrick Crayton on third-and-4 and sprinting with the ball 43 yards the other way to give the Packers a sudden 21-7 lead. Otherwise, ugliness ruled the day for Green Bay's 31st-rated pass defense, which had myriad alignment and communication issues on the back end. The Packers allowed seven pass plays of at least 20 yards. Mismatches were prevalent among the defensive backs' trying to stay with Jackson (seven catches, 141 yards, three touchdowns) and rookie Vincent Brown (four receptions, 79 yards), as well as Gates (eight catches, 96 yards, touchdown), who also had linebackers trying to mark him. Some late pressure forced Rivers into a few bad throws, especially the last interception, but the Packers had only two sacks.

RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus — Coming off a season-worst 218 yards allowed to Adrian Peterson and the Vikings in the previous game, the Packers had one of their better efforts this season from a numbers standpoint. The Chargers managed 85 rushing yards and a modest per-carry average of 4.0 yards. However, they all but abandoned the run as the Packers' double-digit lead swelled in the third quarter and then got to 21 points early in the final period. Until then, the 5-foot-9, 243-pound Mike Tolbert, making the start for an injured Ryan Mathews, was unequivocally a load to bring down. The Packers had missed tackles on at least six of his runs, the majority of them by linebackers Bishop, A.J. Hawk and Erik Walden, as Tolbert ground out 83 yards in 19 carries. Bishop was sucked inside on Tolbert's 8-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that he bounced around end to the left side. Walden redeemed himself with a nice stop of Tolbert in the backfield during the Chargers' final-quarter comeback.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus — Mason Crosby stayed perfect (15-for-15) on the season for field goals by connecting on his only attempt, from 47 yards, and also made all six of his extra-point tries and came within one of his season high with five touchbacks. Punter Tim Masthay continued to hit the ball well with distance and solid hang time, averaging 54 gross yards and 42.5 net yards in only two kicks. Yet, Green Bay was riddled by a few more special-teams breakdowns. Rookie Ryan Taylor, a top contributor on the various units, allowed an onside kick to roll through his legs — he shouldn't have touched the ball, special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said — and Nelson's attempt to swat the football out of bounds resulted in a deflection and a Chargers recovery, leading to a quick touchdown to cut the deficit to 45-38. Woodson, who rarely returns kicks anymore, was deployed as the deep man on San Diego's subsequent kickoff and had an awful return of 9 yards to the Green Bay 8. Regular return man Randall Cobb averaged a pedestrian 25.6 yards on kickoff returns and gained 11 yards in his only punt runback. The Packers' kickoff-coverage unit allowed a 42-yard return by Richard Goodman (29.7 average) but, on average, San Diego started at its 21 on eight kickoffs.

COACHING: C — Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has plenty to chew on and fix at the midway point of the season after the Packers averted a 21-point collapse in the final quarter and escaped San Diego with a seven-point win to stay unbeaten. The pass defense lived up to its reputation on two fronts — giving up big chunks of yards with regularity and compensating somewhat by being opportunistic with the three interceptions, and all three were needed as it turned out. From the outside looking in, head coach/play caller Mike McCarthy has it easy when Rodgers is flawlessly running the offense. The burden, however, is on McCarthy to devise a game plan that plays to the strengths of Rodgers and his receivers but doesn't become stale and predictable. McCarthy's game-management decisions down the stretch amid the chaos of San Diego's comeback were peculiar. In particular was the wrong thought process that the Chargers would try a second straight onside kick after they closed the gap to seven points with nearly 6 1/2 minutes still to play, resulting in devoting 10 guys up near the kickoff spot and putting Woodson in no man's land on the deep kick.

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